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Life matters

The first of a three part series about Mahler's Third Symphony, exploring Jason Starr's film documentary -

'... an artistic performance executed to perfection.'

What the universe tells me. © 2004 Video Arts International

'Imagine a work so large that it mirrors the entire world.' So said Gustav Mahler, a visionary composer who sought to create a new kind of music of such immensity and scope that it could evoke the very forces that created the cosmos, a music so dramatically charged that it possesses the power to change us. In Mahler's Third Symphony, a voice intones the great questions of existence: o man, beware, what does deep midnight tell us? We yearn for happiness, yet there is suffering and death. Seeking answers to life's contradictions, Mahler tapped the wisdom of a living planet. 'It isn't music anymore, but rather a mystical, immense sound of nature.' Can music shape a world and reveal life's deepest secrets? Will we be changed, by entering that world? Mahler's epic journey begins with the creation of the cosmos.

These are the opening words of award-winning producer and director Jason Starr's brilliant and haunting documentary about the Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler. Few other symphonies have touched the musical world in like manner, and so Mahler's Third has been the subject of books, essays, a choreography by John Neumeier and, most recently, a splendid audio and visual experience with Jason Starr.

Jason Starr
Jason Starr

Jason Starr is one of the foremost directors for classical music programmes and his eye for beauty results in a work that bears stark contrast to the sometimes-dissonant films we had to become used to in our modern time that, with its fast-paced life, would fain camouflage some of the most disrobing questions that concern all of us: where are we going, why are we here and what is the use of living at all?

Mahler, however, asks all these questions in his pastoral symphony, which he described as a musical poem that travels through all the stages of evolution. But where, exactly, do we fit into this craggy picture of life with its twists and turns? Bad-tempered modern philosophers would make us believe that we matter not at all, but here comes Mahler saying that life matters, even the beauty of the moment, for its own sake, as expressed by flowers when they bloom one summer, all too soon to die in the oncoming winter, their craving for a longer life left unfulfilled.

A still frame of a crowd and the setting sun. Photo © Video Arts International
A still frame of a crowd and the setting sun. Photo © Video Arts International

It is fashionable today to study Mahler, perhaps to listen to him in stuffy concert halls, but do we know just what he means to tell us with this music? Don't be deceived, for Starr is not telling us either. The interpretation of this wonderfully involving symphony is up to every one of us and it will be individually different for each viewer. Starr has embarked on a fantastic journey, tracing the steps of Mahler as he composed his symphony, travelling to the places where he wrote the music, capturing on screen for us the images of the same flowers that Mahler saw, the same trees, the same mountains. Starr is an exceptional craftsman, a skilled visual artist who steers his camera the way an aerobatic pilot might steer his airplane through a world championship.

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Copyright © 16 June 2004 Tess Crebbin, Germany


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